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MoD's Chinook tactics spark a constitutional row

Tony Collins
Chinook: The MoD's actions over the crash of Chinook ZD576 could have legal ramifications

A former Labour minister has asked the House of Lords to consider whether defence officials are breaching the law and Parliamentary sovereignty by refusing to clear the names of two pilots blamed for a Chinook helicopter crash in 1994.

Lord Chalfont, a former Labour foreign affairs minister, has also asked the Lords to defer renewal of a vital armed forces law which, if allowed to lapse, could disrupt the day-to-day operations of the RAF.

The peer's efforts mark a stepping up of the campaign against the refusal by the Ministry of Defence to overturn the RAF's verdict of gross negligence against flight lieutenants Jonathan Tapper and Rick Cook, who were piloting Chinook ZD576 when it crashed on the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland in June 1994. The accident killed all 29 people on board, including 25 senior police and intelligence officers.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee and a Lords select committee found that technical defects, including problems with the Chinook's Fadec computerised engine control system, could not be ruled out as a factor in the accident. Both committees said the verdict against the pilots was not justified.

Although the Lords' report was published more than four months ago, the Ministry of Defence has yet to respond to it. Chalfont said the Lords committee demonstrated that the verdict against the pilots was unlawful and that the MoD should have acted by now to set it aside. He believes that the MoD has no intention of acting on the Lords' report.

In the Lords yesterday (Wednesday), Chalfont was expected to say that the MoD had, in his view, failed to have due regard for the rule of law and the sovereignty of Parliament. To remind the MoD that it operated under the authority of Parliament, Chalfont urged peers to defer approval of the draft Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts in respect of the RAF. Without a renewal of the act the RAF may not be able to continue to operate as normal.

Chalfont said he did not want to disrupt the RAF but to raise awareness of what he said was the constitutional question of whether the MoD or Parliament had the final say over whether the names of the pilots of Chinook ZD576 should be cleared.

An MoD spokeswoman said her department was likely to respond to the Lords report by the end of next month.

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